In India I met and interviewed a strong and outspoken woman. She is very honest about suffering and abuse she has faced, but she does not lose hope and is fighting for change.
“If you ask any women, whether it is a women in power or a women in poverty, each have their stories of violence and pain,” says Moumita Biswas, executive secretary of All India Council of Christian Women.
Moumita is often vocal and direct in her statements on various types of violence. Being part of women’s wing of National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), her work involves advocacy on gender justice, women theology, minority and indigenous women’s rights.
National Council of Churches in India represents 14 million protestant and orthodox Christians. After Hinduism and Islam, Christianity is the third largest religion. There are 24 million of Christians of various denominations, around 2,3 percent of the total population.
In the video, filmed at by Henry Martin Institute of Interfaith studies in Hyderabad, Moumita tells her personal story of violence and sexual abuse and sheds light on what it is to be a woman in India.
“Always I am labelled as a fighter woman. Even if you are strong and bold, you are labelled and stigmatized. I sometimes felt, if I kept quiet, I would have faced less violence,” executive secretary admits. She manages to defy every stereotype. In addition to her professional achievements, Moumita is a single divorced mother, taking care of her eight years old daughter.
On various occasions executive secretary of women’s wing of NCCI has had to reaffirm – violence against women is present in any circumstances, disregarding social or professional background or wealth. Victims are often blamed for the violence they face, rather than their perpetrators. A number of times women in leadership positions are being forced to adopt male behaviour or their views are not taken into consideration.
While education is considered the leading indicator of improving women’s status, sociological research shows that it might not be the only obstacle. According to a recent study, Indian women who are more educated than their husbands, earn more, or who are the sole earners in their families are more likely to experience violence from their partners than women who are not employed or are less educated than their spouse.
Churches in India have a great role as civil society organisations. Moumita has been working on various initiatives to raise awareness on sexual harassment, child protection and gender justice education. Her aim is to “end the culture of violence”. All India Council of Christian Women launched this year a 365 days Zero tolerance to gender Based violence: Make it happen now! The campaign included activities to honor women police officers and ask for women-friendly police stations, men speaking about positive masculinity and highlighted the 16 Days of Activism against gender based violencea and White Ribbon movement – men led initiative to end violence against women.
Increasing rape rate has put India among the most dangerous countries for women. The Delhi case where 23 year old woman was gang raped on a private bus and died of injuries later caused local and international outrage and protests against the state negligence in 2012. The girl went out with her male friend and took a bus after several rickshaw drivers refused to take them aboard. In a number Indian cities taxis refuse passengers a short distance drive as this will not bring a high fare. As part of Thursday’s in Black campaign women’s wing of NCCI approached rickshaw drivers in Calcutta asking to always take women aboard in the evenings. “We don’t need big money to do this. Out of ten drivers we have spoken to, five will remember”, executive secretary is optimistic.
In addition to social outreach, Moumita is a theologian and uses scriptures as a reputable reference and empowerment tool. She interprets Bible from a woman’s perspective addressing such taboo topics as menstruation and hygiene, women trafficking and prostitution, sexual violence and divorce. She leads Bible studies as a professional performer and audience is taken by her empathy and ability to step into women’s shoes. “Our theology must change,” Moumita affirms, referring to dominating interpretation of scriptures.